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Conceptual Crossovers: Over my Christmas break I read Glen David Gold's Sunnyside, a great novel, a little literary for my taste, but really solid. It's one of those novels with interweaving plots, and Charlie Chaplin is the main character of one of the strands. Around the middle of the book, Chaplin is at a rally in San Francisco, giving a speech trying to sell government bonds for WWI. His rhetoric starts to falter, and we go from a transcript of the speech into a pretty believable interior monologue:

He felt abandoned. He hated the war. He hated that the country was in it, that there was no place to go but forward, that more atrocities were to come. He felt people were never intentionally beastly or malicious, but they were pompous and foolish; awful decisions were made by men divorced from their own humanity. He thought that universal peace was within reach if only people ceased to be stupid.

When he had pretended to be Trotsky, he had spoken well. But now that he was trying to be both himself and a servant of the world, he was failing. He persevered, believing that the simple act of faith, the spirit of talking with the audience, would lead to a kind of communion.

I thought this was really amazing because Gold's monologue, juxtaposed with his Chaplin character is doing at this point, explained the ending of The Great Dictator for me. Why real-life Chaplin is willing to turn the intense climax of his scathing film into a soppy train wreck: that's how he thinks he can actually make a difference. This is the only time you will listen. I still don't like the ending, but I have some sympathy in my Grinch-scale heart for the decision.

Over the break I also experienced a literature/film epiphany in the opposite direction. In my Constellation Games author commentary I say that I "reuse some of the character of Ariel from The Tempest, the guy with magic powers who gets bossed around all the time." But after rewatching The Little Mermaid I gotta admit that Ariel is also named after the girl who's so obsessed with an alien culture that she fills a cave with their incomprehensible stuff.

[Comments] (2) December Film Roundup: And in this corner... Film Roundup!

[No comments] The Crummy.com Review of Things 2014: Another year, another blog post summing it up. Here's 2013. And here's 2014:

Creations

2014's big project was The Minecraft Archive project, which led into The Minecraft Geologic Survey, which led into the Reef series and two huge bots. I'm planning on doing a refresh of the data this year to get maps created in 2014--hopefully it'll be easier the second time.

I also finished Situation Normal, edited it and have now sent it out to editors and agents. I'm cautiously optimistic. I finished two short stories, "The Process Repeats" and "The Barrel of Yuks Rule", and like many of my stories they're a rewrite away from being sellable and who knows when I'll get the time.

I gave a talk on bots at Foolscap and a talk on improving Project Gutenberg metadata at Books in Browsers. That ties into my job at NYPL. I had a full-time job for most of this year, for the first time in a while, and 2015 is the year you'll get to use what I'm making.

Subcategory: Bots. You won't believe how many autonomous agents I created in 2014! I'm not even going to show you all of them, only the ones I'm really proud of. I'm going to order them by how much I like them, but I'll also include their current Twitter follower count--the only measurement that really matters in this post-apocalyptic world.

My secret goal for 2014 was to have a bot whose follower count was greater than my own. Minecraft Signs (probably my favorite bot of all time) came close but didn't quite make it.

I also created a bot that's so annoying I didn't release it. Maybe this year.

Film

I scaled back my film watching versus 2013, but still saw about fifty features. Here's my 2014 must-watch list. As always, only films I saw for the first time are eligible for this prestigeless nonor.

  1. Pom Poko (1994)
  2. Alien (1979)
  3. My Love Has Been Burning (1949)
  4. Seven Chances (1925)
  5. A Town Called Panic (2009)
  6. Alphaville (1965)
  7. Frozen (2013)
  8. The King of Comedy (1982)
  9. Playtime (1967)
  10. The Women (1939)

These are more or less the films I would watch again (a very high bar to clear), although The King of Comedy should be watched once and only once. I'm kind of surprised that Playtime got on here since I wasn't wild about it, but I really can see how it'll be better the second time.

The runners-up: films I recommend, but will probably not see again, and if you're like "aah, it's three hours long" or "aah, David Bowie alien penis", I'll understand:

  1. Solaris (1972)
  2. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
  4. Queen Christina (1933)
  5. Paprika (2006)

Literature

Didn't read a lot of books this year, but I made them count. The Crummy.com Books of the Year are Dispatches, Michael Herr's Vietnam reporting memoir, and Phil Lapsley's phone-phreak history Exploding the Phone, which covers about the same time period. Both awesome.

Sumana and I selected Kim Stanley Robinson's "The Lucky Strike" for a Strange Horizons reprint. It's a great story.

Audio

Since I started commuting again it was a decent year for discovering new podcasts. Sumana and I love Just One More Thing, a deep-dive Columbo podcast. I also really like Omega Tau, a podcast that will do a two-part series on shipping container logistics, or a five-parter on the hardware and operation of the space shuttle. Honorable mention to the guilty pleasure-ish Laser Time, which is more or less random nostalgia but which brings out a lot of interesting deep cuts.

Games

Didn't play a lot of video games because a) Minecraft Archive Project took up all the time I used to spend playing Minecraft, and b) my desktop developed a weird problem where it abruptly powers off if I stress it too much, e.g. by playing a modern computer game. I should really address this problem, but I have not, because it does prevent me from spending too much time on games.

Played a lot of board games with friends as usual. The Crummy.com Board Game of the Year is 2014's The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, a building game that captures the true thrill of interior design. Runner-up: Hanabi, the cooperative game that magically turns passive-agressiveness into an asset that benefits all. Dishonorable mention to 1989's Sniglets, a party game where having fun requires not that you disregard the scoring system (a common thing for party games) but that you deliberately play to lose.

That reminds me, I should have mentioned in 2014's review of 2013 that Encore is a party game from 1989 that's really, really good. You have to have the right group though.

That's it! How we doin' in 2015? I'm getting a lot done. In fact I just wrote this big blog post talking about the best of 2014... oh, but you're probably not interested. See ya!

[No comments] More Dice Fun: A while back I wrote about a maddening but interesting book called Scarne on Dice. It's a really huge book which I intend to get rid of ASAP, but before I do there's a couple things about dice, and cheating at dice, I wanted to quote.

In perhaps the most entertaining section of the book Scarne takes on the sleaziest parties in this whole wretched business, "the crooked gambling supply houses", who sell outdated cheating devices at huge markups. According to The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man, another book I read recently, the mailing lists of these supply houses were coveted by con artists, because by definition, everyone on those lists "liked the best of it." One catalog's advice to buyers, according to HoyleScarne:

When telegraphing use the following code: PAINT for cards and CUBE for dice.

I feel like this led to a lot of telegrams like "DESIRE FIVE PAIR LOADED CUBE AND TWO DECKS MARKED PAINT FOR CHEATING AT CUBE AND PAINT STOP."

This head-slapping entry from Scarne's inventory of trick dice needs to be quoted in full:

DOOR POPS

These are a very brazen brand of mis-spotted dice that show 7 or 11 every roll. Since the catalog lists them, there apparently are buyers, but they are strictly for use on very soft marks and then only on dark nights. One die bears only the numbers 6 and 2; the other nothing but 5's! Since anyone but a blind man would tag these cubes as mis-spots, the moment they rolled out, they are of no use except for night play under an overhead light when the chumps can't see anything but the top surfaces of the dice. Strictly for use by cheats who don't know what a real set of Tops is.

There's a a couple entertaining but long stories of specific cheats which I won't transcribe. The best is the story of "the mouth switch". Seems there was a craps hustler in the 30s who kept a trick die in his mouth and introduced into the game it by cupping the dice in his hands and "blowing" on them. They called him "Mononucleosis Joe". Actually they called him "The Spitter," but they only started calling him that after he tried this trick while drunk and ended up rolling all three dice onto the craps table.

Finally, a tale of collegiality which I feel gets really boring if you explain what the numbers mean:

Several years ago the Harvard Computation Laboratory put a battery of calculating machines to work and came up with a whole book full of answers. Since the binomial formula is used in many problems and so often requires staggering amounts of arithmetic, they constructed a set of Cumulative Binomial Probability Distribution Tables which give provability fractions for a wide range of values of n, r, and P. And because Dr. Frederick Mosteller, Chairman of the Department of Statistics, had seen a copy of Scarne on Dice and was aware of the 26 game problem, he saw to it that the calculating machienes were asked to provide figures for the terms n = 130 and P = 1/6.

It's easy to read this book and feel superior to the people who get fooled by seemingly rudimentary tricks (David Maurer, author of The Big Con, specifically points this out in his book), but I'm sure someone who knew their stuff could take my entire roll in a crooked dice game. Why am I so sure? Because you could take my entire roll in a completely fair dice game.


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